The Power Clean is undeniably one of the most beneficial exercises for strength and power athletes. It helps athletes improve their explosive power, which ultimately helps them sprint faster, jump higher and be better at most sports skills.
The downside is that the Power Clean is a complicated lift that requires not only strength but technical skill in order to be properly executed. The idea seems simple—just pull the bar though, right?—but perfecting the technique can take a long time.
Newbies performing the Power Clean are especially tough to watch. They often try to simply pull the bar as hard as they can and then let it land on their shoulders. What often results looks like a starfish trying to stop an I-beam, with wobbly and unsteady arms struggling to catch the bar. I know this firsthand because my early attempts at the Power Cleans met with similar results. But I was fortunate enough to have weightlifting coaches who helped me hone my technique.
Here are some of the drills they taught me, which I’ve since used with my own athletes. I’ve found them to be helpful in both cases, and very useful for teaching proper execution.
The Tape Drill
This drill is one of my favorites for limiting the amount of “starfish,” which is when an athlete kicks his feet way out to the side instead of receiving the bar in an athletic position.
For this drill, you need a roll of athletic tape and a hardwood lifting platform. Start with one piece of tape about 18 inches long set in a straight horizontal line. The line serves as a marker for where your toes should go. Then place two 6-inch long pieces of tape close together in the center of the toe tape, about hip-width apart. These mark the starting position of your feet. Finally, place two more pieces of tape, again 6 inches, alongside your starting spot but kicked out about 3-4 inches on either side. The end result will look like this:
The goal is to move your feet laterally along the long piece of tape and move directly from the first to the second set of tapes. If you drill this enough, you’ll consistently place your feet in the best position to receive the bar and facilitate a carryover to the full Clean. This drill can be applied at any point during your training, even during heavy sets.
Power Clean Catch to Front Squat
This is one of my preferred drills to use with big groups or teams of athletes who are still refining their Power Clean technique. The beauty of the drill is that it provides instantaneous feedback on whether you are doing it correctly. Athletes love instant feedback. It’s even better if the feedback doesn’t have to come from a coach.
To execute this drill, perform a standard Power Clean, but as soon as you receive the bar, stick a hard 2- to 3-second pause in the “catch” position. Without standing back up, lower yourself into a Front Squat, then stand all the way back up.
If you receive the bar with the correct foot and hip position (as well as the rack position), you’ll be able to descend effortlessly into the Squat. If you’re kicking your feet out into a starfish or catching with your hips extended forward, you’ll find the Squat portion awkward and cumbersome.
This drill works well as a warm-up to heavier Power Cleans or as a main exercise when you want to keep the intensity low but still get a good training effect with correct technique.
I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with this drill. I love it as a coach because I find it extremely effective for correcting poor technique in intermediate lifters. I hated it as a lifter because my first weightlifting coach made us do it with an empty bar a mind-numbing number of times before we were allowed to add any plates.
Start with the bar in your hands hanging in front of your hips. I prefer to initiate this drill as you would a Hang Clean or a Romanian Deadlift—by pushing your hips back and lowering the bar to your knees. From there, rise slowly like you’re doing a Clean. Pull the bar ever so slowly up to chest height, then hold it.
The idea here is to groove the pattern the bar should be traveling during an actual Power Clean. Once the bar is at chest height, you should be fully extended all the way through your toes. Hold this position until you’re stable, then snap your body down and receive the bar in the correct position.
This drill is effective alone but it also pairs fantastically well with the tape drill. It is best applied as a warm-up drill before you put weight on the bar.
These drills will help you correct common mistakes athletes make, but remember: the Power Clean is part of the sport of weightlifting. Like any other sport skill, it takes lots of time and practice until it feels effortless. Keep practicing!